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Egypt Frees An Aspiring Candidate

Presidential Hopeful Is Released on Bail

By Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, March 13, 2005; Page A16

CAIRO, March 12 -- Egyptian authorities released a presidential hopeful from prison Saturday after supporters posted his bail. The politician's detention had drawn criticism from the United States and the European Union.

After his $1,800 bail had been paid, Ayman Nour, wearing a white prison jumpsuit, blew kisses to scores of supporters at the police headquarters as they tossed candy at him and trilled gleefully. His backers then ferried him in a pickup truck to a community center he runs in the Bab ash-Shariya district of Cairo.

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"We are paying the price of our search for freedom," Nour said after he was released, according to the Associated Press. "They tried for days to destroy a national project, the Tomorrow Party. But they failed."

The Bush administration, which is pressing the government of President Hosni Mubarak for political reforms, had complained about Nour's detention, saying it threw into question the country's democratic process. A delegation from the European Union, which had also sought Nour's release, was scheduled to visit him in prison Sunday.

During 24 years in power, Mubarak's six-year terms have been ratified in referendums in which people voted "yes" or "no." Last month, Mubarak announced that he would allow opposition candidates to run against him in elections scheduled for September. Details of his plan are still being worked out, but the new rules are expected to be approved by May in parliament, where Mubarak's National Democratic Party controls 85 percent of the seats.

Nour had campaigned for multi-candidate elections, and has pressed for presidential term limits and the lifting of emergency laws that have suppressed free speech and assembly in Egypt for a quarter century.

Authorities arrested Nour Jan. 29 after the state prosecutor alleged that he had falsified more than 1,000 documents filed as part of legal requirements to gain official authorization for his Tomorrow Party. The government's political parties commission had rejected Nour's petition for three years but finally approved it in October. After Nour was arrested, members of the commission said they had not had time to inspect the papers, which are individual statements of founding membership. A party needs to file 50 to meet the requirements.

Nour denied he forged any of the documents and said he was being framed. In a statement Saturday, prosecutors said the investigation was continuing.

Nour, 40, declared his candidacy for president last Wednesday from prison. It is uncertain how many votes he could win in a presidential race. Many of Egypt's more established political parties are expected to nominate candidates, diluting a potential anti-Mubarak vote. The government also controls vast pools of patronage as well as state-run television and newspapers.

Nour's supporters say his jailing was a publicity boon. "He came out much stronger than he went in -- himself, the party and, most of all, the spirit of freedom in Egypt," said Mazen Mustafa, a party official.

Mubarak's associates have insisted that Nour's arrest had nothing to do with politics.

"This will be over soon," Osama Baz, an adviser to Mubarak, said a few hours before Nour was set free. "I can assure you there is no vendetta here. What does he have, a few thousand supporters? More? He is not a threat."

Baz predicted that Nour would eventually be indicted. When the opposition leader arrived Saturday evening at Bab ash-Shariya, riot police had already parked 10 trucks near the building. Inside the hall, whose walls are made of thin steel plating, hundreds of supporters stood on chairs and cheered. Nour entered with an orange scarf draped over his prison uniform. Orange is the Tomorrow Party's color. Nour thanked supporters who came out to see him during his frequent trips between jail and interrogation centers.

The crowd chanted, "Ayman Nour, son of the Nile" and then hoisted him onto their shoulders as a recording of Egypt's national anthem played.

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